Fighting for third day in north Gaza as thousands displaced

Yemenis march in the Huthi-run capital Sanaa in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza (MOHAMMED HUWAIS)
Yemenis march in the Huthi-run capital Sanaa in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza (MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

Explosions, air strikes and gunfire rattled northern Gaza on Saturday, the third day of an Israeli military operation that has uprooted tens of thousands of Palestinians and compounded what the UN called "unbearable" living conditions in the territory.

An AFP correspondent reported explosions from the Shujaiya area near Gaza City, and a resident saying bodies were seen on the streets.

The armed wings of both Hamas and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said they were engaged in ongoing fighting with Israeli forces there.

Israel's military said fighting "above and below the ground" in Shujaiya left a "large number" of militants dead.

It said "dozens of terrorists" were killed and weapons, drones and observation posts were found, as well as a long-range rocket launcher and tunnel shafts.

The military on Saturday reported two soldiers killed and two severely wounded in combat in northern Gaza.

A resurgence of fighting in the area comes months after Israel declared the command structure of Hamas militants dismantled in the north.

Last Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "intense phase" of the war was winding down after almost nine months, but experts see a potentially prolonged next phase.

The Gaza conflict has also led to soaring tensions on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, leading Iran on Saturday to warn of an "obliterating" war if Israel attacked Lebanon.

The war started with Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 42 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,834 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

- Fleeing empty-handed -

Mohammed Harara, 30, said he and his family felt they too would become part of that toll.

He said they fled their home in Shujaiya with nothing, "due to the bombardment by Israeli planes, tanks and drones".

Israel's military said Friday it was conducting "targeted raids" backed by air strikes against Hamas in the Shujaiya area.

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA estimated that "about 60,000 to 80,000 people were displaced" from the area this week.

AFPTV images on Saturday showed men moving belongings on a donkey cart, people being pushed in wheelchairs and children with backpacks passing piles of debris.

"I saw a tank in front of the Shuhada mosque firing" at targets, said Abdelkareem al-Mamluk. "There were martyrs in the street."

Elsewhere, Gaza's civil defence agency on Saturday said four bodies were pulled from an apartment after an Israeli strike in the central region.

Further south, in the Rafah area, witnesses reported dead and wounded after a new Israeli incursion.

Tarek Qandeel, director of the medical centre in Al-Maghazi, central Gaza, said it was seriously damaged when a neighbouring house was bombed.

The United Nations, in a report on Friday citing Gaza's health ministry, said "about 70 percent of health infrastructure has been destroyed".

- No bathrooms -

Separately, a UN spokeswoman, Louise Wateridge, said by video-link she had just returned to central Gaza after four weeks outside the territory.

"It's really unbearable," she said.

"There's no water there, there's no sanitation, there's no food," and people are returning to live in "empty shells" of buildings.

The UN says most of Gaza's population is displaced, but the war's fallout has also uprooted people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border, where Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and Israeli forces have engaged in near-daily exchanges of fire.

Such exchanges have escalated this month, alongside bellicose rhetoric.

Israel's military said plans for a Lebanon offensive had been "approved and validated", prompting Hezbollah to respond that none of Israel would be spared in a full-blown conflict.

- 'Psychological warfare' -

On social media Saturday, Iran's mission to the UN in New York called Israeli threats to "attack" Lebanon "psychological warfare".

But it added such a move would lead to an "obliterating" war that could involve "all resistance fronts", a reference to Iran-backed groups.

Among those are Yemen's Huthi rebels, who have for months targeted international shipping in the Red Sea area, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians.

On Friday the Huthis claimed a "direct hit" on a tanker, but a maritime security agency run by Britain's Royal Navy reported no damage.

The US Navy has retaliated against Huthi targets after such attacks, and on Friday the US military said it had destroyed seven drones and a control station vehicle in Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

On Israel's domestic political front, at a Tel Aviv mass rally against Netanyahu's government Saturday former hostage Noa Argamani said "we must do everything to bring them back home", referring to the hostages still in Gaza.

Israeli forces rescued her and three other hostages on June 8 in a raid on Nuseirat in central Gaza.